London Fashion Week this year took place from 19 February to 23 February 2016, which prompts us to look into the UL’s collections relating to Western fashion. Many designers and fashion houses have European origins, such as Yves Saint Laurent, Giorgio Armani, clothing retailers Zara, Versace and so on, and each has its own story to tell. We often think of Paris and Milan when we think of the fashion world, as France and Italy are some of the leading countries in fashion design, and fashion has always been an important part of these countries’ cultural lives and societies.
Images depicting Paris fashions from Paris miroir de la mode :
crinolines et calèches, 1855-1867 (S950.a.9.571)
Historically, several European cities have been the fashion capitals. During the Renaissance, different cities in Italy were Europe’s main trendsetters, due to the cultural power they held, such as Florence, Milan, Rome, Naples, Genoa, and Venice. An overview of Renaissance Italian fashion history can be found in Guardaroba medievale : vesti e società dal XIII al XVI secolo by Maria Giuseppina Muzzarelli (2000.8.5031). A highly illustrated book, depicting clothing from the Renaissance era is Fruscianti vestimenti e scintillanti gioie by Giancarlo Malacarne (S950.b.201.1458-1459).
Many of the most famous fashion designers of the 20th century were Italians, and the UL’s holdings reflect that. Early in his life, Guccio Gucci was a lift boy at the Savoy Hotel in London. Inspired by the elegant upper class hotel guests, he returned to Florence and started making travel bags and accessories. He then founded the House of Gucci in Florence in 1921 (Gucci by Gucci, 85 years of Gucci S950.a.200.342). Giorgio Armani is considered by some to be the most successful designer that Italy has produced (Essere Armani: una biografia by Renata Molho C202.c.2005).
Both Spain and England also developed as major fashion centres. By the late-16 th century, London became a major city in European fashion because of the influence of the English Royal Court. And due to the influence of the powerful Spanish court in fashion at the period, Spain became a major fashion centre too. In the 17 th century, with the power of Louis XIV in the French court (Fastes de cour au XVIIe siècle, costumes de Bellange et de Berain by Paulette Choné, Jérôme de La Gorce S950.a.201.3337), Paris established itself as Europe’s main fashion centre. But during the 19 th century, with the powerful British Empire and a young Queen Victoria on the throne (From Queen to Empress : Victorian dress 1837-1877 by Caroline Goldthorpe 1989.10.727 and S408:8.b.9.48), London once again became a major fashion leader, as described in Fashioning the bourgeoisie, a history of clothing in the nineteenth century by Philippe Perrot (translated by Richard Bienvenu at 490:45.c.95.8 and the French original, Les dessus et les dessous de la bourgeoisie : une histoire du vêtement au XIXe siècle at 490:45.c.95.3). However, it continued to look to Paris for inspirations (Paris miroir de la mode, crinolines et calèches, 1855-1867 S950.a.9.571 and Le “Journal des dames et des modes”, ou, La conquête de l’Europe féminine (1797-1839) by Annemarie Kleinert P500.c.597.46). In the 19th century military uniforms were the first ready-to-wear garments to be mass-produced during the War of 1812 because of the practical and technological advances.
Rose Bertin (1747-1813), a French fashion designer is credited with having brought fashion and haute couture to the forefront of popular culture. Michelle Sapori has written two books about Bertin. Rose Bertin: ministre des modes de Marie-Antoinette (560:88.c.200.17) and Rose Bertin : couturière de Marie-Antoinette (C205.c.4976). But firms or fashion houses run by individual designers as they are today started in the 19 th century with an English fashion designer Charles Frederick Worth (1825-1895) relocated to Paris from Britain in 1846, in order to perfect and commercialise his craft in fashion; he was the first designer to have his label sewn into the garments that he created. He founded the House of Worth, one of the foremost fashion houses, and is widely considered the father of haute couture as it is known today (two works from the UL’s collections include Worth: Father of Haute Couture by Diana de Marly, 490:4.c.95.12 and The House of Worth : portrait of an archive C200.a.3933, which is based on the collections of the V&A museum).
Images from Modes et manières du jour à Paris à la fin du 18e siècle et au
commencement du 19e : 1798-1808 (S950.a.9.570)
Not surprisingly throughout the early 20 th century, practically all high fashion came from Paris. During the period between the two World Wars until the 1960s, often considered as the Golden Age of French fashion, Paris was considered to be the centre of fashion throughout the world. Coco Chanel (490:45.c.200.1, book in French by Henry Gidel), a French designer revolutionised women’s fashion in seven ways: trousers for women; suntan; Jersey fabric; branded perfume; costume jewellery; the little black dress and the Chanel suit. Another one of the greatest French designers in fashion history, Yves Saint Laurent (Yves Saint Laurent / text by Pierre Bergé, 9005.c.4631), brought ready-to-wear clothing with a great reputation into society in the 20th century (Saint Laurent Rive Gauche, the fashion revolution, C200.a.3259). As fashion illustrates history, one of his collections showed a document of the time, a class illustration of the “swinging sixties” politically, socially and fashionably, described from Yves Saint Laurent: images of design 1958-1988 (9000.a.2300).
Most famous brands of fashion can be expensive, but as Aldo Gucci put it: “Quality is remembered long after price is forgotten.” All these famous designers are remembered throughout the world long after they are gone.